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Making the Mystic Book cover

by | Apr 5, 2015 | Art

One of the most exciting parts about being a new writer is getting to see the cover artwork for your first book. Tor Books has an outstanding art department that I’ve had the privilege of working with for many years. So I knew from the beginning that it was going to be a fun experience to see what they came up with.

Part 1: Concept

It’s very rare that an author of a traditionally published book gets to determine their book cover.  I was fortunate in that my editor asked for my input on what I’d like to see. Here are some excerpts from my request.

(Very minor spoilers within this quoted text)

Pomella is a 16-year-old girl. She has noticeably dark skin, but not deep brown. (She had a dark-brown skinned father, and a light-skinned mother). She has dark hair. It is cut to her shoulder length. She’s normally proportioned with a modest amount of curves appropriate for her age—she’s neither skinny, slim, or large. She considers herself moderately pretty, but not stunningly beautiful. Depicting her with small amount of make-up would be okay.



Her most prominent outfit is an off-white, long-sleeved, hand-made festival dress with a light-to-modest amount of embroidery. On top of this dress she wears a hooded dark green cloak. The cloak has story significance. It cloak is clasped by a buckle shaped like a triangular Celtic knot.



Towards the end of the book, Pomella carries a “Mystic staff.” Visually this would be similar to a traditional wizard’s staff (Gandalf, etc). This staff is made of oak. There should be no accents, stones, or charms attached to it: just a tall walking staff slightly taller than her.


Pomella is typically seen with (2) small hummingbirds flying around her. These hummingbirds are silver and somewhat translucent. They trail silvery smoke behind them as they zoom around. They are young birds, like children, and tend to buzz around her playfully with high energy and great speed.


When I imagine the cover, I mostly see an image of Pomella, standing in a position that implies the strength of her spirit. I would love for potential readers to see her and think, “Huh, this girl looks determined, interesting, and mystical.”



Pomella is not an action hero. It would be inaccurate to depict her as swashbuckling, or standing in kung-fu-like poses. MYSTIC is a book about an inner journey, spiritual mysticism, and shadowy conspiracies. Thematically, I’d encourage you to depict Pomella in a position of stillness within a mystical environment.

Mystic book cover (woman)A also sent them one of the mock-up covers I had previously made for myself. I made this cover while I was writing the book, as it helped me focus on the energy and feel of the story.

I later heard from Tor that they appreciated the guidelines I provided, and that they were going to use my mock-up as a starting point.

Tor has complete control over the book cover. I’m very fortunate that they considered my ideas, and actually took them!

Part 2: Photo Shoot

Recently, I had the opportunity to have a Skype call with Larry Rostant, the artist assigned to produce my book cover. Larry is a photographer and has worked with some of the biggest authors in fantasy fiction: George R. R Martin (he did covers for the most recent Song of Ice and Fire books), Peter V Brett, and Mary Robinette Kowal. Just having his name attached to my book is a real honor.

Morgan Nia HilaireDuring our call, Larry told me a bit about his process. He lives in the United Kingdom, and works with a casting agency to help him find models. He has also has a group that comes in to do the complete costumes, props, and make-up.

For Mystic, he worked with a young model named Morgan Nia Hilaire. Larry said that he was delighted with my concept art, and immediately formulated lots of ideas.

Here are some photos of Morgan in costume, posing as Pomella.


I love how the cloak billows in the left and middle pictures. Also, notice how Morgan is holding a straight walking stick of some kind, but in the images below, it’s been replaced with the wooden staff I requested.

I don’t know how many poses Larry had Morgan do, but he said that all told, he took about 120 photos for this cover.

Part 3: Photoshop
After completing the photo shoot, Larry worked his magic in Photoshop. The background was carefully chosen to offer the right vibe. Although sometimes he’ll purchase the rights to use somebody else’s background, most of the time Larry shoots his own stuff, and draws from his huge collection of natural and landscape photography.

When he was done, Larry had four images to offer Tor. He submitted these to Tor’s art department:

Aren’t those all amazing? Each of them has something wonderful to offer, but I think that, hands down, the best one was the third image from the left.

Tor obviously agreed, because here’s the final product:


Mystic comes out November 3, 2015.

1 Comment

  1. kristinburns

    Thanks for this behinds-the-scenes look at a process I’ve never thought much about before. And yes, I do judge a book by its cover. :o)

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